Clean Tech Corner: Meeting energy needs

Countering alarmists, UNH figures show there is time to explore clean tech options

New Hampshire is in the midst of looking toward the future and deciphering a suitable path toward meeting our energy needs. With recent articles discussing the potential addition of new natural gas pipelines in New England and current supply reliability concerns, heads are understandably spinning with confusion and anxiety as to how we meet these needs. But are new pipelines the correct option? 

We often hear a drumbeat of despair and crisis concerning natural gas reliability and supply into the state, largely focusing on periods of rare but severe winter cold snaps such as that seen in 2013-2014. A proposed solution is to add more pipelines to access greater gas supplies. Voilà, problem solved. At first blush, the idea seems like a plausible solution. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex. 

Critics of new gas lines have voiced significant concerns regarding the risk to ratepayers. Some proposals would sink an estimated minimum of $1.3 billion dollars into building new lines. With utilities requesting that ratepayers foot the bill, this doesn’t sit well for the ratepayers. Moreover, there remains mounting anxiety that natural gas market demands may change and leave ratepayers with stranded costs brought about by new pipelines — all of which would be out of ratepayer’s control. These concerns stem from the continued boom of natural gas in many states, as well as in the international community, who look to natural gas as a better fuel source and thus drive up demand. In New England alone we now rely on natural gas to meet 50 percent of our electrical needs, placing New Hampshire at great risk should prices spike again. But what other alternatives exist?

Last week, during “NH Energy Week,” the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, and a host of other organizations, released a report titled “New Hampshire’s Electricity Future: Cost, Reliability, and Risk.” The report, prepared over the course of the past year, aims to address many of the unanswered questions surrounding the potential of new natural gas pipelines in our state. It then moves to consider how this might compare to other available options. 

The report compared existing research and data regarding current energy demand, how the market has fared to date and perceived risks of certain available options. What the authors discovered might surprise you. For example, UNH researchers found that, “In terms of commercial use, the average monthly utility bill in 2015 was actually lower than the U.S. average commercial bill, at $529 versus $671.” This fact, along with finding a lack of a real need to build new pipelines in order to meet reliably concerns, asks us to consider other, less risky and costly approaches.  

This is where clean tech comes in. 

Shifting toward efficiency and technology advancement, we find the clean tech sector can provide a significant helping hand in addressing our energy challenges. The table herein illustrates the result of investing in clean energy technologies. These technologies can help minimize the risk exposure to ratepayers that inevitably occurs when we invest in single, large infrastructure projects. The deployment of energy efficiency measures and distributed generation resources results in reduced overall energy needs, greater supply and a distributed system with less ratepayer-carried risk; all while allowing for the creation of thousands of new, well-paying jobs within the state. 

One thing is clear: all New Hampshire citizens are concerned about energy costs and want the lowest possible energy costs. Citizens, businesses and municipalities deserve a response that accumulates and digests real facts and figures. If those figures are not currently available then we should apply the good ol’ precautionary principle until they are. In the meantime, if we deploy targeted energy efficiency, distributed energy and conservation, especially during peak periods, do we (or will we) really need ratepayer-funded pipelines? The UNH report indicates that we may not. What we do know is that we need more clean energy and better technology – New Hampshire’s future, and the key to maintaining its advantage, depends on it.  

Until next month…keep it clean New Hampshire!

Michael Behrmann, MSEL, is director of the New Hampshire Clean Tech Council.

Categories: Tech Advice